Indulkana - Alice Springs (415 km) via National Highway A87
Our Indulkana friends were up and away early to work in the town. Both educators working in the local schools. The day again, was fresh. Autumn in the air as well as central Australian desert! Cold nights and warm days feature in this arid landscape. Everything in Indulkana is within walking distance and so we walked down the street to the school house to find our friends. We were introduced to some of the local Mum’s in the preschool and then were invited into the art centre. Aboriginal art in the making in real time. Beautiful canvases adorned every wall of the spacious room and artists were hard at work on every table. Paint everywhere. We discovered later, one of the artists from Indulkana, Yankunytjatjara artist Kaylene Whiskey
was an Archibald 2020 finalist and her work, “Dolly visits Indulkana” was being displayed at night on the Sydney Opera House sails. Kaylene’s winning painting was inspired by her love of Dolly Parton’s music and dream that Dolly would one day also visit Indulkana! Kayalene’s favourite Dolly Parton’s songs include, Coat of Many Colours, Jolene and her number one favourite, Islands in the Stream with Kenny Rogers. (https://www.smh.com.au/culture/art-and-design/how-an-artist-with-a-dream-brought-dolly-parton-or-her-likeness-to-the-opera-house-20210413-p57iqw.html)
We were both extremely impressed as well as inspired by all the art and artists in the Indulkana art centre!
Shortly afterwards we found ourselves departing Indulkana, however for a moment we weren’t too sure if we were going to be able to leave! A police lock up truck had appeared behind us and followed us out of town to the turnoff onto the main dirt road leading back to the highway. We stopped here to photograph the town sign, adorned with an image of an owl and a classic outback sculpture of exhaust pipes welded together into the shape of a small tree! Symbolic of the rough dirt track AKA the Gunbarrel highway, bulldozed only some 70 years ago into the interior of the Great Australian Outback! The story of Len Beadell and his government funded bulldozer is an outback legend and story for another time. If we had turned left to enter this legendary bush track, we would have been in big trouble as permits are required to traverse this remote and rugged road into the APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) lands. We had no intention of turning left, but the police did not know this and so pulled up beside us to find out what we were doing. They had obviously been alerted to our presence in the town and explained that we also should have had permits to enter the Indulkana community! We knew about the permit system but understood our friends had invited us and thought everything was in order because of this. We explained we were turning right to get back on the highway and had stopped to photograph the Indulkana sign and sculpture. They waved us on with a smile!
We smiled too. Before us lay a relatively short drive, in outback terms to Alice Springs. Also known as the red centre of Australia! Why, is the red centre of Australia called the red centre? You may well ask and I will explain but before reaching the red centre of Australia, we had to cross the border. Today we would leave South Australia and enter the Northern Territory, however with all of the restrictions associated with the Covid pandemic we were not too sure what to expect.
The border crossing, despite Covid was a non-event. An old yellow road works trailer with blinking lights leaning off kilter on the side of the two-lane highway about a kilometre from the border signaling mandatory forms must be completed to make the crossing was all there was! No police, no quarantine, no customs! We drove straight on! Welcome to the Northern Territory, home of Crocodiles and Crocodile Dundee! Our experience crossing the border into Western Australia in only a few days time was nothing like this! Read on to find out what happened there.
Now, however we were almost exactly in the centre of Australia and the red centre too! I say almost exactly because according to the Australian Geosciences department, there is no centre of Australia! The following link to the Geosciences department explains and demonstrates at least five ways to define the centre of Australia! (https://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/national-location-information/dimensions/centre-of-australia-states-territories)
Images of central Australia conjure up red sand dunes, the worlds largest rock, Uluru (previously called Ayres Rock by the colonists until recently) and lots of scrubby low-lying bushes and very rough red dust filled corrugated tracks leading far into the outback. Dingo’s too live here, Australia’s native cousin to our domesticated dogs. The red colour associated with Australia’s outback is due to the high content of iron ore in the earth here. The iron, exposed to oxygen in the atmosphere oxidises, or rusts and makes for the stunning rich red ochre back drop often seen in outback photographs of Australia. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of iron ore and has the best quality ores in the world. China, depends on Australia for its iron ore to make steel!
Despite the Australian Geosciences department claiming there is no centre to Australia, we accept the Lambert Gravitational method as close enough and so it is today, we pass through the red centre of Australia on our way to Alice Springs! Ghan, is the nearest approximation to a town close to the Lambert centre of Australia. Ghan, is obviously named after the Afghanistanian camelers who helped the early colonists traverse the rugged Australian interior with camels imported from Afghanistan. Wild or feral camels now contribute to environmental degradation of the arid central deserts and are actively farmed for export. They can be serious road hazards too. One can never be too careful when driving in the outback!
At Ghan, we find an Australian version of an oasis! The Erldunda roadhouse and turn off to Uluru! (https://www.erldundaroadhouse.com) We stop for fuel but it is not our day to turn off towards Uluru. We are on a tight schedule to greet the moon in Broome, Western Australia. On our return home from Broome, we will cross some truly remarkable desert outback tracks to make our way to Uluru via the outback way. The really outback way and across one of Australia’s starkest deserts! Stay tuned and read on! That adventure is still a few weeks away! For now, we stay on the sealed two-lane highway and continue north. It’s only a short drive to reach Alice Springs! Land of Caterpillar Dreaming, home of the central Australian McDonnell Ranges!
One of the first things we see, on the outskirts of Alice Springs is the airport. We notice it because there appears to be hundreds of planes parked there. It is so impressive we make a short detour to go see them. Another of Covid’s casualties. Airlines from all over the world, have parked their aircraft in Alice Springs to keep them safe and airworthy while they are grounded. The arid desert air helps to preserve them.
Finally, we pass through the gap, that is the highly culturally significant opening through the McDonnell ranges leading into the centre of Alice Springs! We have arrived and it’s not too late to take a sunset spin around town on our electrically charged mountain bikes. We make it to the lookout over town for an awe-inspiring sunset.
There is enough light to cycle through the town centre and back along the Todd River bed, dry at present. There are locals on the sandy riverbed floor making a big bonfire! Probably an unusual site in most places but here it seemed quite normal! It’s predicted to be a cold night with temperatures dropping to freezing! We head back to camp and prepare for a chilly night, not too concerned, as we have brought hot water bottles to ensure we stay warm and snug no matter the weather!
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